How United and City match up
. . . as Manchester derby beckons
LONDON — All derbies are eagerly anticipated, of course, that is the whole point of the exercise. But Manchester is where it is all happening in English football at the moment. In terms of the personalities and pedigree of the two managers, the staggering amounts of money spent in the transfer window and the impeccable starts United and City have made to the new season, it is clear things have moved up several notches since the memorable Old Trafford meeting five years ago and a result the BBC suggested would send shock waves through the Premier League.
That was City’s 6-1 win against Sir Alex Ferguson’s reigning champions, United’s worst home defeat for more than half a century, and recollections are still vivid of a flabbergasted Fergie blaming his players for chasing the game and conceding more goals rather than switching into damage limitation mode once Jonny Evans had been sent off and their opponents were beyond catching.
That is not how Ferguson or his United would like to be remembered and, in fairness, they do not deserve to be, but these things can happen in derbies.
José Mourinho’s United may have the edge in goal but they are evenly matched with City in all other departments, though Pep Guardiola will be unable to play the suspended Sergio Agüero.
GOALKEEPERS United are clearly ahead in this department, having managed to retain the services of arguably the most reliable goalkeeper in the country. Although this time last year the club were resigned to losing David de Gea to Real Madrid, the transfer never happened and De Gea appears relaxed about his new manager and ready for another derby.
Having been firm in showing Joe Hart the door, Pep Guardiola now faces a followup decision. He cannot really continue with Willy Caballero, as that would indicate a lack of confidence in his £17m buy Claudio Bravo. The Chilean is therefore lined up to make his debut in the Manchester derby, which is bold but not ideal.
DEFENCE Eric Bailly and Daley Blind have been getting the nod so far, despite José Mourinho’s supposed misgivings over the latter as a central defender, and with United unbeaten Chris Smalling is finding it hard to win back his place. Luke Shaw is a certain starter at left-back as long as he returns from England duty without mishap, though the right-back position is a little more complicated. Antonio Valencia has been playing well enough to hold on to a place, though he only returns from Ecuador duty the day before the game. Mourinho is likely to have doubts about that, so there may be an opportunity for Tim Fosu-Mensah or Phil Jones.
City are in a somewhat similar position to their rivals, with summer signing John Stones is already the kingpin of City’s central defence but doubts surrounding his supporting cast. Vincent Kompany is on his way back to fitness but unlikely to be risked, leaving a choice between Nicolás Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov. The latter, normally a leftback, has been quite impressive as emergency centre-half, which is just as well considering City have just sent a couple of real centrehalves out on loan. Otamendi has not always convinced, either, but if he plays in the middle Kolarov or Gaël Clichy will be left-back, with Bacary Sagna perhaps favourite instead of Pablo Zabaleta on the right.
MIDFIELD Paul Pogba has been waiting some time for his first Manchester derby and this will be his big day, even if reports that Barcelona passed up the chance to sign him in the summer are true. United supporters are expecting great things from their £90m signing and, given the price tag, the France midfielder is bound to command most attention in this early-season derby. It might seem odd that such a Rolls Royce of a player could find himself alongside the Mad Max vehicle that is Marouane Fellaini, but the way United have been playing the possibility exists. Other options include Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin, the last prevented from joining Spurs in the summer by Mourinho’s intervention.
Guardiola has changed City’s shape and in doing so dispensed with the somewhat cautious three-man midfield, with two of them defensive, that Manuel Pellegrini favoured. The Chilean normally used at least two defensive midfielders in a line of three, which tended to hold City back. Nowadays City are
now moving towards a more adventurous 4-14-1 system, at least until Ilkay Gündogan joins the party, with Fernandinho doing the defensive screening and wide players Raheem Sterling and Nolito asked to track back when necessary. Not only does that make City are a much more attacking proposition, it means and Guardiola can employ both Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva in advanced positions, though United will look to exploit the space at the back.
ATTACK United have so many options Marcus Rashford has lost his starting place and £27m Henrikh Mkhitaryan has found opportunities extremely limited. For the time being Mourinho’s front two are set in stone, Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the main striker with Wayne Rooney just behind him. Anthony Martial has been quite successful on of the left, and rather more surprisingly Juan Mata has been getting a run of games instead of Mkhitaryan
on the right. The Armenian hasas just been injured on international duty so United will need to check his fitness, and though his direct running could be an asset against City, Mata’s clevernesseverness has proved useful in the past.
Sergio Agüero scored six goals oals in his first three games this season, so there is no doubt losing him to suspension ion represents a blow for City. When fullyly fit and on form there is no more lethal finisher in England, and in view of his age, pace and power, he can probably run ringsngs round both Rooney and Ibrahomovic. In his absence Guardiola could promotee Nolito to centre-forward and bring in Jesúsús Navas on the left, though he his more likelykely to keep the overall shape and give Kelechichi Iheanacho a chance to shine up front. The young Nigerian did not let anyone downown when called upon last season and Guardiolaardiola appears to have seen enough first hand to appreciate his potential. — Guardianian
José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola meet on Saturday for the first time in Manchester.